It's becoming increasingly difficult to determine just where to put Death in Vegas genrewise. Emerging in the mid-'90s as part of the ill-fated big-beat movement, the duo, then comprising Richard Fearless and Steve Hellier, debuted with Dead Elvis (Concrete, 1997). After Hellier's departure, Fearless found a better-suited partner in Tim Holmes and attempted a daring, experimental effort — along the lines of Krautrock band Neu — with The Contino Sessions (Concrete, 1999). Featuring vocal contributions from Iggy Pop, Dot Allison, Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie and the Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid, the album drifted into the fuzzy, live-electronic territory of Spiritualized and Primal Scream.
Death in Vegas' latest full-length, Scorpio Rising (BMG), is another mutation that plays host to Oasis' Liam Gallagher, Adult.'s Nicola Kuperus, Woodbine's Susan Dillane, ex — Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval, Paul Weller, Dot Allison and Indian violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam — not to mention 265 violin players. Furthering what they started with Contino, the decidedly hypnotic Scorpio blends punk-rock guitars, acid-house synths and repetitive drum loops. “We took ‘Flying’ [from Contino] as a blueprint to capture the live sound,” Fearless explains. “What we tend to do is write the song, get the band to play it, rearrange what they've done and either sample them or make loops of the best bits. Then, we bring them in again. ‘Killing Smile’ went back and forth six times until the final version.”
Changing the majority of the equipment used for Scorpio Rising, Death in Vegas employed Digidesign Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase (for MIDI sequencing), the Otari RADAR hard-disk recording system and an Atari 1040 STfm hooked up to three Akai S3000 samplers. A Roland SH-2 synthesizer (the two-oscillator version of the SH-09) and an analog Audient console round off the basic studio setup. “Before, we were limited to samplers and two tracks,” Holmes says. “Now, we can bounce five tracks from the drum set straight into Pro Tools and loop them up, but you can still adjust them to the whole kit. I'm a believer in the equipment you use changing the sound and the way you work.”
Death in Vegas uses the same group of musicians for the live show as for recording (two guitars, bass, drums and keys, with Holmes and Fearless taking on the “acid-house side of things”). But despite the proliferation of vocals on Scorpio Rising, the live translation is purely instrumental. “The live show became more important without a singer because it's a real challenge to hold an audience without using the visual aid of a singer,” Fearless says. “We're concentrating on the dynamics of the song. Subsequently, the whole set is a lot more psychedelic in the live version.”
“It's much more of a sonic fest with snippets of the vocals morphed and dubbed up,” continues Holmes, who has gone from using an Akai MPC60 onstage to a Mackie desk running an SH-09, an SH-101, filters, distortion units, dub boxes and an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. “I'm quite happy to hide behind as many pieces of high-tech equipment as possible. People say I just make the toast, so I'm going to get a toaster in there and bring out cheese sandwiches.”